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In bioinformatics, neighbor-joining is a bottom-up clustering method used for the creation of phylogenetic trees. Usually used for trees based on DNA or protein sequence data, the algorithm requires knowledge of the distance between each pair of taxa (e.g. species or sequences) in the tree.

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Neighbor-joining is based on the minimum-evolution criterion for phylogenetic trees, i.e. the topology that gives the least total branch length is preferred at each step of the algorithm. However, neighbor-joining may not find the true tree topology with least total branch length because it is a greedy algorithm that constructs the tree in a step-wise fashion. Even though it is sub-optimal in this sense, it has been extensively tested and usually finds a tree that is quite close to the optimal tree.

The main virtue of neighbor-joining is its efficiency. That is, neighbor-joining is a polynomial-time algorithm. It can be used on very large data sets for which other means of phylogenetic analysis (e.g. minimum evolution, maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood) are computationally prohibitive. Unlike the UPGMA algorithm for phylogenetic tree reconstruction, neighbor-joining does not assume that all lineages evolve at the same rate (molecular clock hypothesis) and produces an unrooted tree. Rooted trees can be created by using an outgroup and the root can then effectively be placed on the point in the tree where the edge from the outgroup connects.

Furthermore, neighbor-joining is statistically consistent under many models of evolution. Hence, given data of sufficient length, neighbor-joining will reconstruct the true tree with high probability.


  • Atteson, K. (1997). The performance of neighbor-joining algorithms of phylogeny reconstruction, pp. 101-110. In Jiang, T., and Lee, D., eds., Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 1276, Springer-Verlag, Berlin. COCOON '97.
  • Gascuel, O. and Steel, M. (2006) Neighbor-joining revealed. "Mol. Biol. Evol." 23(11):1997-2000.
  • Mihaescu, R., Levy, D. and Pachter, L. (2006) Why neighbor-joining works. arXiv cs/0602041.
  • Saitou, N. and Nei., M. (1987). The neighbor-joining method: a new method for reconstructing phylogenetic trees. Mol. Evol. Biol 4(4):406-425
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Neighbor-joining". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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